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Navigating the dinner table on any Thanksgiving can always pose a significant challenge—whether it’s fighting over the right to a second helping or the right to bear arms—being surrounded by family can be the best and worst time of the year. Add to the usual table conversation a pandemic, multiple social movements and the recent presidential election, and you might not want to leave the kitchen. Not to worry though—if your family members disagree with you on key issues, or you’d rather not talk about issues at all, here is your guide to making Thanksgiving a safe food-filled holiday space rather than an aggressively political one. 

1. Avoid and Redirect

Your first strategy for less-than-festive Thanksgiving conversations is to move them into a warmer topic. This can be hard with particularly opinionated relatives, but it might help to come to dinner with a few light topics in the back of your mind to come back to. These light topics are even more useful if they have zero relation to current events—weather, school, pets or relationships are some ways to get started. So the next time your uncle says, “In this political climate I’m just not sure a woman vice president can do all the things a man can do,” you can say, “Speaking of climate, I thought November was supposed to have cold weather! Why are we still wearing shorts?” 

2. Find Things Everyone Can Agree On

Sometimes even the weather can’t distract from a heated political discussion. When opinions seem particularly polarized, the best thing to do is find common ground. Sometimes that can be apolitical—“Isn’t this the best pie we’ve had in forever?”—but it definitely doesn’t have to be. If you’re just as opinionated as your relative, it can be hard to stay impartial, but bipartisan statements can save you from a conversation topic you might not want to fully avoid. Instead of telling your MAGA hat-wearing brother that you’ll be voting for the non-racist candidate, you could bring up the importance of voting in the first place. No, you won’t add your relatives to your political party of choice this way, but you can enjoy your mashed potatoes knowing that you two have some similarities after all.

Hand holding a red sticker with the words "I Voted"
Parker Johnson/Unsplash

3. Set Boundaries

When avoidance and common ground still leave you trapped in a racism-tinged lecture from your grandparents, the next best thing you can do is set clear and firm boundaries. This can sound a lot of different ways, but some go-to statements might be, “I’d rather not talk about this anymore,” or the more frustrated option, “Can we go ten minutes without talking about All Lives Matter?” No matter what word choice you go with, you’re advocating for yourself and letting your family know that you’ve had enough. With any luck, they’ll leave you to eat your pie in peace. 

4. Leave or Take a Break

With slightly less luck, that self-advocacy might not be enough to get the conversation back to giving thanks. If the rest of your dinner table companions just won’t switch topics, you can leave the conversation altogether in an attempt to preserve your own mental health. Depending on your Thanksgiving environment, this might be hard to do long-term. But if you can’t step out of your dining room altogether, bathroom breaks or walks around the neighborhood might be your best bet. 

Thanksgiving meal spread with turkey and sides
Photo by Pro Church Media from Unsplash

5. Stay Strong

With everything going on right now, you might not want to be the one to sacrifice your political voice. If this is the case, you’re allowed to have your own opinions! When nothing else works for you—or if your opinions outweigh your complacency—the best advice I can give you is to stay strong in confrontation. Sometimes the other side might seem loud or obnoxious, but that doesn’t mean you have to be quiet or small. You and your opinions are allowed to take up space this holiday season—don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

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Maddie Stults is a first year psychology student at Florida State University. She is passionate about mental health and volunteers for NAMI Tallahassee in her free time. When she's not writing or studying, she loves playing guitar, tennis, listening to music, and re-watching Parks and Rec on Netflix.
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